January 15, 2014 | Web Design
As a design firm that works with many small businesses to launch their web site or redesign their web site, I’ve come to realize that the way an organization or entrepreneur handles their own web site project often is a good indicator of how they will run their entire business.
Let me quickly walk you through a typical web design project from estimating through completion.
- Estimating: Usually the owner of a micro-business or the team member in charge of marketing for a small business will solicit estimates. This can be as formal as an RFP, but many times I gather the requirements from a phone call or meeting with the prospects. From there, I outline the process, write up an estimate for the costs and give a rough timeline for completion.
- Research: If we’ve won the job, we usually do a kick-off brainstorming session to gather as many details as possible and to confirm short and long term goals for the site. This is followed by sitemaps and wireframes if required.
- Design of look & feel: The next step is mocking up the look & feel for the site. This assures that the design and structure helps to convey the brand image and message. There is then several rounds of back & forth as we develop the design, get feedback from the client, and refine and finalize the design of the web site.
- Development: At that point, we build out the site, almost always using WordPress.
- Finalized content: Before we can complete the site we need final content: all text, photographs, charts, testimonials, videos, etc. These may be developed by us, by the client, or a combination.
- Test, train, launch: Then there is a process of finalizing, testing and debugging the site. And finally we go live as well as train the client on how to update their site themselves.
These numbers suggest a linear process, which it is not completely. But there are certain items that do need to be finished before other things happen.
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Managing a web site project—whether it is the first web site for a start-up, or a upgraded web site for a more established organization—can be hard work. It puts a project, and all sorts of tasks, onto someone’s to do list. And that to do list was likely overflowing to begin with. But face it, having a well-designed, professional web site is a priority for any business.
Here are a few obstacles that my clients run into, and what symptoms I think it suggests for their business acumen.
Trying, but not succeeding at writing their own content
By far the number one issue that stalls web site projects is the creation and finalization of content. Content is all the information on the site. The vast majority of this is usually text but it can also mean photographs, video or other types of content. A typical scenario is one where a business has an existing web site with out-of-date, not-too-impressive text. As part of the new web site, the business owner or team plans to rewrite all of their content to make it better. We offer writing and editing services as part of our web site work, but the owner declines.
I highly recommend you assign this critical task to someone other than yourself.
The more closely integrated your design and content are, the better the overall message will be. When we start designing without finalized content, we are more likely to end up with cookie-cutter designs because we just don’t know the length, style or tone of the text that is coming. Therefore, in our case, I’d recommend you pay the extra money and have us complete your content along with your design. If your web company does not offer writing or editing, find another person to take on this job and pay them to complete it in a timely fashion. This usually means paying a professional, not relying on your spouse or other family member to do in their free time.
Bigger issue: When I see this happen, I see a business owner who is reluctant to spend a bit of money with a professional who will help them. Finding partners and delegating key work to them will be critical to the success of your business.
Not being open with your budget
Every time I estimate on a web site project I ask the prospect what their budget is. Yet some business owners are reluctant to share or have no clue.
Many newer business owners don’t have a number in mind when seeking estimates and are looking for estimates and options from the web development companies. In addition to getting estimates from web design firms, I recommend you network with other business owners and ask them how much their web site cost and how they and you perceive the value.
If a company has gone through a web design project within the past few years (and that does seem to be the typical life cycle of a web site these days), they usually know what they spent in the past and the value they got from that money.
Some owners seem to fear that whatever number they put out there will be gobbled up by a greedy web designer. But in the most successful projects, there is an openness about what the goals are for the site and the budget allocated for the job. There is nearly always more than one way to do something on your web site. Some options are more costly up front but may make the site more robust, be more flexible, or have a longer life span. Other methods can streamline the process and make the project more affordable.
Bigger issue: A fear of getting taken advantage of, which turns into an inability to work collaboratively with key partners. Secondly, you probably don’t have a clear budget for running your business which may lead to other problems.
Changing course drastically during the web design project
The chance to redo a web site or create a new web site can give people a sense of optimism and limitless opportunity as they consider the possibilities. Many business owners find themselves in a difficult position because they honestly don’t understand the options that could be part of a web site redesign. Or, they don’t fully understand what is and what is not within their budget. Part of both the estimating and the research phase of a web site project is used to help define the goals and costs associated with the web site.
Slow moving projects are particularly prone to changes in direction. If a web site takes months and months to complete, and you have a rapidly changing (or more likely) poorly formed vision for your organization it is easy to get off track during the time span it takes to complete a web design project.
It’s hard to complete a web site if the target keeps changing. The first problem is that these changes in course usually mean re-doing some work that is already underway, which increases the cost. Even if there is approval for the extra expense, it can be a dangerous and slippery slope. I often suggest that we stay the course and complete a simpler version of a web site rather than get side tracked by adding additional content, functionality, etc. that has not been fully thought out.
Bigger issue: This type of erratic behavior can mean that the business model is not fully refined. The target audience for the site or the main goals for the site are changing because the business owner does not fully understand where their business is going.
What about you?
I’d love to hear from both business owners and web designers. Have you experienced these problems or others? Do you think these are indicators of issues with a business, or just the normal struggle to pull together a web site?